Weinstein accusers poised to see first compensation as trial looms

Harvey Weinstein, second from right, at the State Supreme Court in New York. (AP pic)

NEW YORK: Harvey Weinstein and his former studio partners have reportedly reached a tentative settlement with women who filed civil suits against the disgraced film mogul for sexual harassment, but the multi-million-dollar deal will not forestall his criminal trial, set for September.

Under the proposed deal, millions of dollars would go to Weinstein’s accusers – the first compensation for the women who galvanized the #MeToo movement – and creditors of his former studio.

The agreement, reported by several US news outlets, is expected to go before a bankruptcy judge handling the Weinstein Company case on June 4 for final approval.

The details of the deal, which would put an end to a year of legal wrangling, have yet to be revealed.

Weinstein, 67, was once one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, producing Oscar-winning hits such as “Shakespeare In Love” and “The English Patient.”

But it all came crashing down in October 2017, when allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. Weinstein has now been accused of harassment and assault by more than 80 women.

Hollywood magazine Variety and other organizations have cited sources close to the situation indicating that US$30 million would go to Weinstein’s numerous women accusers as well as the studio’s creditors.

Another US$14 million would pay for the legal fees of his studio partners, who have been named as co-defendants in several of the suits.

The funds are to be paid out by insurance agencies, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The hope is that the settlement will globally resolve the civil complaints targeting the studio, including one filed by New York state’s attorney general against the studio for failing to keep employees safe.

“It’s been a long, complex process, and we do feel this settlement provides a measure of justice though it’s not everything one might hope for,” said Aaron Filler, an attorney for one of the complainants, actress Paz De La Huerta.

For Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor and professor of law at Pace University, the apparent deal is “a victory for the women who claimed abuse.”

But it’s likely also good news for Weinstein and especially his company, which no longer has any ties to him and can henceforth “put this major lawsuit behind them… they can move on.”

As for the criminal trial, due to begin on September 9 in New York, Gershman said the civil settlement would have little effect.

Weinstein has been charged over the alleged assaults of two women – a rape and an incident of forced oral sex. He faces life in prison if convicted.

The civil settlement – which could largely remain sealed – is unlikely to include any admission of guilt by Weinstein or his business associates, as such statements could be used in court, Gershman said.

So any impact would be mainly “symbolic in the sense that they have agreed to pay a lot of money… which seems to imply that they did something wrong,” the professor noted.

That could potentially sway jurors called to rule on Weinstein’s guilt.

But the settlement is not all rosy for prosecutors, explains Julie Rendelman, another New York attorney.

If any of the women involved in the settlement are called to testify, Weinstein’s defense team could seek to discredit them as solely in it for the money.

For now, prosecutors have not revealed who they plan to add to the witness list for the trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks.

Last month, at a hearing held behind closed doors, lawyers from both sides discussed the list of potential prosecution witnesses with the judge.

The judge hinted that a ruling may not come until the start of the trial.

Testimony from five accusers was allowed at the retrial of disgraced comedian Bill Cosby on sex assault charges. Like Weinstein, he had dozens of accusers, but faced criminal charges in only one case.

Cosby was sentenced last year to at least three years in prison.